Time, who goes away night and day, without rest
and without interruption, who parts from us and
steals away so quickly, seems to us to be always
stopped at one place, but he never stops there at
all. He never ceases passing away, so that no man,
even if you ask learned clerks, can tell you what
time it is that is present, for before he had thought,
three moments would already have passed. Time,
who cannot stay, but always goes without return-
ing, like water which is always descending, never
returning a drop backward; Time, before whom
nothing endures, not iron nor anything however
hard, for Time destroys and devours everything;
Time, who changes everything, who makes all grow
and nourishes all, who uses all and causes it to rot;
Time, who made our fathers old, who ages kings
and emperors and will age us all, unless Death
cuts us off; Time, who has it in his power to age
all mankind . . .
--THE ROMANCE OF THE ROSE, by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun, tr. Charles Dahlerg (1983), p. 35-36, about lines 360 to 385?
Here's how Chaucer rendered the passage in his own (Middle English) translation:
The Tyme, that passeth nyght and day,
And restelees travayleth ay,
And steleth from us prively,
That to us seemeth sykerly
That it in one point dwelleth ever,
And certes, it ne resteth never,
But goth so faste, and passeth ay,
That ther nys man that thynke may
What tyme that now present is --
Asketh at these clerkes this;
For er men thynke it redily
Thre tymes ben ypassed by.
The Tyme, that may not sojourne,
But goth and may never retourne,
As water that downe renneth ay,
But never droppe retourne may.
There may nothyng as Tyme endure,
Metal nor erthely creature,
For al thing it fret and shal.
The Tyme, eke, that chaungeth al,
And al doth waxe and fostred be,
And al thyng distroyeth he.
The Tyme that eldeth our auncestours
And eldeth kynges and emperours,
And that us al shal overcomen
Er that Dethe us shal have nomen.
The Tyme that hath al in welde
To elden folk had maad hir elde . . .
ROMAUNT OF THE ROSE, lines 369-396
Fisher's COMPLETE POETRY AND PROSE OF GEOFFREY CHAUCER, second edition, p. 587
Could this be a contributing source for Tolkien's Time riddle? I think it v. likely, given the bits about "iron" and "king" and "devours". And we have a strong connection between Tolkien and Chaucer, in that JRRT spent several years putting together a Chaucer anthology, THE CLARENDON CHAUCER, which wd have made a nice companion volume to the Tolkien/Gordon SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT and Sisam FOURTEENTH CENTURY VERSE AND PROSE (to wh. Tolkien contributed).* But the passage lacks too many elements (stone, town, mountain), I think, to have been the main or only source.
So: not the crown jewel we've been looking for, but an addition, I think, to the pool of time-riddles and time-poems and time-characterizations.
just finished: Joseph Pearce's book on THE HOBBIT
current reading: Edward Rice's biography of Captain Richard Burton
*Lewis's work on THE ROMANCE OF THE ROSE, while significant, came too late to have influenced Tolkien